Child care can take up a large portion of your family budget, especially if you are also juggling education expenses or are working less so you can attend classes. As part of your mobile military life, it's possible that you won't have any immediate family living nearby to assist with child care. Child care swaps can be a safe alternative to traditional child care and can save you a small fortune.
What is a child care swap?
Child care swaps, sometimes referred to as co-ops, are exactly what they sound like, swapping child care responsibilities with another family or group of families. The decision to leave your children with someone outside of your immediate family can be difficult and scary. Since many military families face similar challenges, it's often easier to relate to each other and build trust. Finding a military family that has children of similar ages and setting up a child care swap is often easier to do and more affordable than taking your child to a traditional day care.
These arrangements are especially important in the military family when the service member may be away from home for extended periods, and the spouse must act as a solo parent in the family. Finding time to do even the simplest activities can be a challenge and taking on a part-time job or going to school may be easier with a child care swap in place. Some common reasons you may want to set up a child care swap include the following:
- Work (mostly part-time)
- Household chores
- Date night
- Quiet time
Choosing swap families
Here are a few things that you should consider when setting up a child care swap.
Choose families with similar values. When setting up a child care swap, you will want to look for another family or group of families who share like-minded beliefs about child rearing. You will want to make sure the family you are leaving your child with has similar policies on things such as:
- Internet, video game and television restrictions
- Diet, food and snacks
- Exercise and playtime
- Similar availability hours for a child care swap
- Anything else that you feel is important to you as a parent
Choose families close to where you are. You'll also want to choose families that are close to where you live. Swaps are meant to make your life easier, not add stress by driving 30 minutes in the opposite direction of your school for an hour of care. Choosing families that live close by can make it easier.
Use social media. All installations have spouse networks and finding the right one allows you to connect with other spouses to set up child care swaps. You can use social media platforms such as Facebook, discussion boards or meeting groups to help find the right child care swap near you.
Ask for referrals. You can visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for local information on finding a child care swap. Your installation counselor can help you search for the right meeting group or local family to meet your child care swap needs. Select 'Child Development Centers' under the 'Select a program or service' drop-down menu and your installation or postal code to find a point of contact.
Once you have set up a child care swap, you will want to keep track of how many hours of child care you give and how many you receive. Child care swaps don't have to be an exact hour-for-hour exchange, but you should try to create as close to a 50/50 exchange as possible. If one family feels they are providing most of the child care, the arrangement may not work out long-term.